28 Mar 2016

Espresso: Coffee and the Matter of Spiritual Faith

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Bobby's World, Cool Stuff, Culture, eschatology, Faith, Gnosticism, Heaven, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, resurrection, Spiritual Disciplines
Scratch and sniff it ;-)

Scratch and sniff it 😉

What a wonderful Manic Monday, the morning after Pascha/Easter. We have proclaimed to the world our faith in the physical, material, resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. We broke literal bread and drank almost literal wine in fellowship with the Triune God. Easter’s materiality has been floating in my mind but my theological musings this morning are inspired by the sight, aroma, taste and touch of coffee. Coffee has a wonderful materiality about it. And even in our fallen world a cup of java is a little bit of heaven.

The materiality, the delight, of coffee had me thinking about biblical faith especially in light of Pascha. There is a massive materiality to the faith of the Bible. The central symbol of worship – the temple – is rooted in the physical materiality of the world. The holiness of its sanctuary depicted the Garden of Eden, its sacred objects, the Ark, is very “thingish.”

So material, physical and “thingish” is biblical faith that it often embarrassed those from more “enlightened” or more “spiritual” times. In the temple the people of God bring the Lord the firstfruits of his own creation – grain, wine, oil, cattle – and much of the purpose of the temple cult is to bring concrete blessing on the physical life: fecundity on the fields, among the cattle, among the people.

Gerhard von Rad speaks about a penetrating “Immanenzwille” of biblical faith. That is an inexorable move “towards becoming immanent.” This is indeed what the temple and biblical faith points to. It is no accident that God’s indwelling of the temple/tabernacle became the most powerful metaphor of the incarnation in John’s Prologue: the Word became FLESH {materiality} and TABERNACLED among us (Jn 1.14). And it is hardly by accident that the scene of life eternal depicted in Revelation 21-22 is a new Jerusalem coming down to the material earth and having the dimensions of a cosmic Holy of Holies: a giant cube, “fifteen hundred miles, its length and width and height are equal” (21.16)

There is massive materiality to biblical faith beginning in Genesis 1.1 that is never lost, not in the first, not in the middle, and not in the last book of the Bible. Those initially offended by the materiality of biblical faith were Platonists. Matter, physicality, was contrary to their understanding of the spiritual. The Platonists that embraced some form of Christianity were called generally Gnostics. But they could never embrace a faith so rooted in “things” and “stuff.” So Gnostics reinvented Christianity beginning early in the second century.

The Jewish heritage was an obvious problem so what was later called the Old Testament needed to be rejected. The nature of Christ had to be redefined and soon Christ was purely a divine being whose mission was to liberate souls from the shackles of materiality. Resurrection itself had to be reinvented. John of Damascus, a towering Arab Christian, captured it well.

“I do not venerate {=worship} matter, I venerate the fashioner of matter, who became matter for my sake and accepted to dwell in matter and through matter worked my salvation, and I will not cease from reverencing matter, through which my salvation was worked … I reverence the rest of matter and hold in respect that through which my salvation came, because it is filled with divine energy and grace. Is not the the thrice-precious and thrice-blessed wood of the cross matter? Is not the holy and august mountain, the place of the skull, matter? Is not the life-giving and life bearing rock, the holy tomb, the source of the resurrection, matter? Is not the ink and the all-holy book of the Gospels matter? … And, before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter?”

The “spiritualists” could only conceive of God and matter, the divine and the material, as opposites. This dualism is completely alien to biblical faith from the alpha to the omega. It is foreign to the God of the temple service; it is unknown to the earliest Christianity of the Jewish apostles … but it invaded central segments of Christianity and continues to mascaraed among conservative Evangelical and Restorationist Christians of every stripe.

But the guiding principle of early Christianity was the fundamental dogma of the OLD TESTAMENT (yes the fundamental doctrinal principle of early Christianity was the basic OT doctrine): belief in the Creator of heaven and earth; that his material, physical creation is not only good but inherently Spiritual; that the human body is God’s workmanship (hello the Holy Spirit breathes life into it and the Word of God became Flesh – it is hard to get more holy than that!); that marriage is a blessed institution; and that the gifts of creation (food, wine, sex) are to be received with thanksgiving to the Creator of all good things.

The Gnostics never appreciated how truly good, holy and SPIRITUAL, a cup of java really is. Experiencing the delight of its materiality has sent my sleep deprived mind to ruminating on the very fabric of biblical faith. The materiality of our faith which is so often misunderstood because we all have a little bit of Plato and a little bit of Marcion floating like a poltergeist in the back of our mind. May God perform an exorcism upon his people.

For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the EARTH is full of the HESED/steadfast love of the LORD” (Psalm 33.4-5) …

Ahhhhhhh that is a delicious salted caramel macchiato

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